House Republicans Back Pre-Obama Spending Levels

The House of Representatives voted Tuesday to roll back federal spending to 2008 levels, a symbolic vote on the eve of the president's State of the Union speech.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

Hours before President Obama's State of the Union address, House Republicans put Democrats on the spot today. They called a symbolic vote on a GOP priority, bringing spending back to 2008 levels.

Here's Majority Leader Eric Cantor.

Representative ERIC CANTOR (Republican, Virginia; Majority Leader): If you think the government didn't spend enough money in 2008, then oppose this resolution. Go on record for more spending, more borrowing and more debt.

BLOCK: The House passed the measure on the mostly party-line vote.

NPR's Audie Cornish reports from Capitol Hill.

AUDIE CORNISH: Now, this was non-binding, so the resolution itself doesn't cut anything. It just promises that Republican Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan will limit the amount of money Congress allocates this year to government agencies and programs. It doesn't apply to spending on Defense, Security or Veterans.

Representative DAVID DREIER (Republican, California): It is literally a one-sentence measure, a one-sentence measure, which says that our goal is to get to 2008 levels of spending or less.

Representative JAMES McGOVERN (Democrat, Massachusetts): I thank the gentleman...

Rep. DRIER: And I thank my friend for his...

Rep. McGOVERN: ...and I reclaim my time.

Unidentified Woman: Gentlemen, (unintelligible).

Rep. McGOVERN: I appreciate the brevity of the bill, but that doesn't mean the bill doesn't have a very negative impact.

CORNISH: These two lawmakers led the floor debate, California Republican David Dreier and Massachusetts Democrat James McGovern.

McGovern needled Republicans about why the resolution doesn't say precisely how much will be cut and from which programs. And it doesn't guarantee the GOP campaign pledge to cut $100 billion this fiscal year.

Rep. McGOVERN: I suspect, Madam Speaker, that's because Republican majority is discovering that it's a lot harder to walk the walk than it is to talk the talk. They're realizing that when you start trying to make those kinds of cuts, you start seriously affecting the American economy and the American people.

CORNISH: Republicans aren't just dealing with criticism from Democrats. Freshmen Tea Party members convinced them to add the phrase 2008 levels or less, so they can lobby for deeper cuts, even though getting down to 2008 levels halfway through the fiscal year is proving to be a challenge.

Democratic Minority Whip Steny Hoyer said handing the job to the GOP budget chairman isn't the answer.

Representative STENY HOYER (Democrat, Maryland; Minority Whip): It simply gives to one person the ability to set that number. It's not only unprecedented, it, in my opinion, is undemocratic with a small D.

Representative PAUL RYAN (Republican, Wisconsin; Chairman, Budget Committee): I'm enjoying sort of the hyperbolic rhetoric we're hearing here today about one person, one committee, one man dictating and all these things.

CORNISH: That's Wisconsin Republican Paul Ryan.

Rep. RYAN: This is a first step in a long process. This is a minimal, small down payment on a necessary process to go forward so that we can leave our kids with a better generation, so we can get this debt under control, so the spending spigot can close.

CORNISH: And that isn't Ryan's closing argument. He's making that in his rebuttal to the president's speech tonight.

The next budget battle could come in February when Republicans have set a vote on a stopgap spending bill to continue funding the government for the rest of the year, the same week the president is due to release his budget for 2012.

Audie Cornish, NPR News, the Capitol.

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